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Coexist?

June 27, 2020
Amazon.com: Peacemonger Coexist Interfaith Peace Symbol Sign Yin ...

There’s a vehicle in my neighborhood on the edge of the University of Central Oklahoma campus (where most of the houses are rent houses and occupied by students from there) with this bumper sticker on the back window. I drive by it many times every week, sometimes several times a day. And each time I drive by it, I think the same thing: Not going to happen.

It’s a wonderful wish, though naive. It would be great if we could all just get along. Several of the religious and philosophical perspectives depicted on this bumper sticker are open to coexistence. But several of them are not.

In my experience, the “Peace Movement” was not interested in coexisting. I was around for its entrance into culture with the peace sign, marches for peace and peace demonstrations in the 1960s. It always got to me that many of these peace demonstrations disintegrated into open combat that was not always initiated by “the Establishment.” There really wasn’t any interest in coexisting. What started as an anti-war movement in the 60s is today now mainly nostalgia among people who weren’t there for its inception. It’s peace sign makes for a cool sticker.

The Gender Issues group has become much more organized in the last 10 years, and they are very much NOT interested in coexisting. You don’t need my commentary on this. Just look around and read the news. Or should I say, “Read the opinions that look like news…”? Sorry. My frustrated bias is showing.

Islam, believe it or not, stands a somewhat better chance of coexisting than the others I’ve mentioned. In Jordan, Christians and Muslims have coexisted from the first days of Islam. Christians , not Muslims, were there first, which isn’t surprising when you think about the proximity of Jordan to Jerusalem, the birthplace of Christianity. Even today, with the growing tension in other parts of the Middle East between fundamentalist Muslims and non-Muslims, the generally peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims is intact.

In other places, though, there is virtually not hope for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and any other religious group. If you ever get a chance to read the Muslim equivalent of the Bible, the Koran, you can’t miss passages that command the annihilation of anyone who refuses to convert from any other belief system to Islam. This is not just a fable circulated by conservative Christians in an effort to draw battle lines. Again, just pay attention to the news. Some Muslims here in parts of America are making sizable and substantial threats that are expressions of this teaching of the Koran.

Jews have been forced through nearly their entire history as a people group to coexist, from Abraham up to today. But in their history, they have also responded with force when pushed to their limit. In the record of the Pentateuch and Joshua, they initiated aggression against other people groups. Today, they are responding to the threats coming at them with force, by force.

I think I’ve sufficiently insulted most religious and philosophical groups by now.

Let me add another to the list. Christians.

I’m not talking about the moral problems with the Crusades. I’m not talking about the wars between Catholics and Protestants of the 1500s, where people (lots of people) died. I’m not looking far back in history. I’m talking about my own 67-year history with Christianity.

I’ve seen Christians in high conflict with other Christians. Physical pushing and shoving, cussing, physical threats, violent overtures. And that’s between people in the same congregation!

This inappropriate and emotion-driven behavior is only a symptom of what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the “US vs THEM” mentality that I’ve seen and experienced in nearly all my long experience with Christians. Granted, I grew up in a very conservative and legalistic branch of the Jesus tree, but I’ve seen it in other branches, too. The concept was/is, “If you’re not one of us, then you can’t really be a real Christian.”

Although it never came to marches and demonstrations or riots and physical battle lines, the non-coexistence was/is there. I wonder how many congregations have been torn apart by this mindset? Too many. And how many lives were pushed far away from the grace of God by the gracelessness of these tearnings? Way too many.

These days, in an election year, there’s another crowbar in the mix. Political preference is now one of the things that breaks up what should be unity and love among God’s family. Who you vote for, in some cases, is as important as whether or not you’ve been baptized.

Coexist? I’m not seeing it.

There’s only one way we’ll ever be able to coexist, and that’s when we express the belief by both words and actions that every person, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, regardless of their geography, regardless of their political views, regardless of how very different from ours their opinions and views are, are all created in God’s image. Every human being bears the image of our Creator, and because of this, all deserve to be treated with respect.

Please don’t understand me. I am not saying that every view is as valid as every other one. This is not my belief. It’s also not consistent with the teaching of Scripture. God’s design is the standard. Truth isn’t fluid. Neither is error. If God called it sin, it’s sin, regardless of who did it or in what cultural context it was committed.

What I’m saying is that the only way we’ll ever coexist is to respect one another. This is the only way we will ever be able to have any kind of rational dialogue about our beliefs and convictions. Without it, that kind of conversation cannot happen.

And, by the way, this same principle of respect applies to every marriage and home. It looks different in different cultures, but it has to be present for a marriage and family to thrive and be healthy.

When moms and dads respect each other and their kids, they will still have standards of behavior. There are still things that bring negative consequences. The standards don’t go away. But without respect, consequences will never do what they were designed by God to do, to create a doorway to discipline.

There’s so much more to this in marriages and families, and I’ve already gone far past my word limit. So I’ll stop. It’s worth coming back to, though. And I will. But not today.

One last idea. None of the respect that I’ve been talking about is possible without us seeking God and praying for Him to create it in us. No respectful dialogue is possible without our partnership and cooperation with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, initiating and sustaining it. So start there. With a prayer for God to use you as a vessel of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. You may not change the world, but there’s a pretty strong possibility you’ll change your world.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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